Letter: Rules of engagement
Author: Arthur F Gill
Following last year’s Notice of Renewal from the General Optical Council (GOC), in which registrants were instructed that it was mandatory to engage with a Survey, I wrote to the GOC in order to establish on what legal grounds they were insisting that registrants ‘must provide this extra information to complete your renewal’.
In further correspondence, and in the face of the GOC’s clouded rationale resulting from its total preoccupation with its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Survey, it was necessary to point-out that:
There were, under consideration, two, very distinct, independent, legal responsibilities, that should not be confused one with the other, ie:
1 The legal criteria that registrants must meet to renew their registration, and thereafter continue to practice, and
2 The legal criteria with which the GOC, as a statutory body, operating under the Professional Standards Authority, must comply.
Further it was pointed out that:
A It was not the responsibility of, nor should it be incumbent upon, optometrists who sought renewal of their registration, to engage in a exercise which is a compliance issue for the GOC, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the criteria required for renewal of registration.
B The legal obligations of the GOC, as a statutory body, are only because of, and after, the fundamental function of the GOC; ie the registration of optometrists. Therefore the legal renewal of registration by optometrists must not form part of any secondary obligation that is mandatory to the GOC’s functioning as a regulatory body.
C To input the information ‘Prefer not to say’ one must engage with the GOC Survey, it does not obviate it.
Ultimately, and after some considerable time, the GOC’s response, amid its own confusion, was to cite its compliance to its complaints process, and ignore the pertinent question; ie the legal grounds on which they could justify their action:
‘Mr –– informed you that he was reviewing your complaint as a stage three complaint in compliance with our corporate complaints procedure. Stage three is the final stage of our complaints procedure and there are no further appeal stages. We now consider your complaint closed.’
The correspondence with the GOC gives an extraordinary insight into an organisation that has apparently:
- Lost sight of its fundamental brief,
- Can not differentiate between the statutory obligation of registrants and its own statuary obligation as a regulatory body,
- Fails to understand that the vaunted laudability of a secondary, independent objective, does not give it precedence over a fundamental function,
- Confused ‘process’ with ‘objective’ such that the ‘means’ becomes an ‘end’.
This year, as if in some puerile, vindictive, retaliatory action for having its procedures questioned, the GOC continues to flagrantly corrupt the registration process, but now more worrying so, as the survey information gathered in this year’s process is not anonymous, but is an integral part of the registration process, making the information provided immediately identifiable with the person seeking renewal.
Considering the very personal, and potentially prejudicial nature of the information sought, its collection might well be baulked at by people of a politically correct sensitivity, objected to by campaigners for civil liberties, considered to have a whiff of a totalitarian regime by students of history, and give ground for genuine concern in respect of data protection regulations by most others.
While I stress it is the ‘inclusion’, and not the ‘nature’, of any survey, that is the salient issue, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Survey itself provides an excellent example of why any such GOC survey is an anomaly in the registration process.
Optometrists are not precluded from registration because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, childbearing status, ethnicity, marital status, commitments to family and friends or their religious beliefs; physical and mental health is covered under ‘declarations’ in a later section of the registration process.
Hence, there is no information contained in that survey that is a legal requirement for registration, and therefore, making engagement with such, mandatory, is both an abuse of the registration process and of power.
Taking my correspondence with the GOC as a reflection of the level of intellectual integrity and rigour it applies to its operation, the collective mind-set that is the result of nebulous pursuits, and the GOC’s patronising attitude, it does not bode well for any practitioner who might come before it to defend issues of a more intellectually demanding nature, and it brings into question the GOC’s competence as a regulator.
This matter has been brought to the attention of the courteous, but impotent, Professional Standards Authority, and the FODO and the AOP; the latter two bodies so that they might inform, instruct, and thereby protect, their members.
Your voice to the GOC, and or, your professional representative body, should now be raised.